Meetings with more human and less numbers

Written by Sarah Spitz, on 13 September 2018

A few months after taking over a 72-person IT division, Yannick wants to develop good habits to get to know his teams: he wants to create an atmosphere of trust and break down hierarchical barriers. But how to do it when there's no time to add meeting times?

When Yannick took up his position in April 2018, he first toured the offices to understand his employees' needs. One of the major demands he heard was the teams' need to see and speak to him regularly.

He then decided to set up informal meetings. Every week, for 2 hours, he gathers with his 12 division managers. And once a month, he dedicates an hour to operational staff in a specific domain (with or without the domain manager).

So far, nothing extraordinary. Except that these are not ordinary meetings. For more human exchanges, he's convinced that we need to restore the nobility of one of human nature's favorite pastimes: chitchatting. And so, get rid of the written word. He bans all supports: no slides, no predefined agenda, or turning these meetings into a review of KPIs.

It's just a table and people... even the table, if I could ban it, I would! - Yannick Gloaguen

No, no, don't laugh: this weekly roundtable turns out to be a breath of fresh air for the teams and a great ground for serendipity and collaboration. Yet the rules are few. In fact, there are only two: 1) it's never the same person who starts the roundtable, and 2) personal topics have no place there. Everyone takes turns speaking about whatever they want: their mood, ongoing projects, difficulties, problems with the coffee machine, upcoming vacations...

At first, of course, it wasn't easy. Once, Yannick even had to cut a meeting short after fifteen minutes: nobody had anything to say (one can easily imagine the awkward silences of that meeting). And yet, when he asked the participants if this meeting still seemed necessary to them, everyone replied that it should be maintained. The next time, the same team needed the full meeting time.

Let's be clear: Yannick is a facilitator, his role is not to fill in blanks or impose certain topics. Nor is it to force all participants to speak up. He is simply a facilitator, and he only schedules individual meetings when a personal demand arises.

For Yannick, the benefits are numerous. The fact that there is no preparation for this meeting is a huge time saver for him and his teams. The absence of an agenda allows for total flexibility in the topics discussed: thus, the subject of transport strikes naturally led to a discussion on telecommuting. He also notes that these meetings foster spontaneous solidarity: when someone expresses a difficulty, other participants naturally offer their help. It must be admitted: one rarely hears of such simple cross-functional collaboration, especially in a large bank! These meetings also avoid the proliferation of appointments and allow for the discussion of essential but non-urgent matters that may arise during the week ("Is it urgent? No? Then let's discuss it all together on Friday").

Proof of the usefulness and success of this meeting format: the absenteeism rate is zero. No one is looking for excuses to skip these meetings. Participants systematically ask Yannick (who systematically seeks their opinion) to maintain these meetings.

However, let's be clear, without minutes or note-taking, these meetings encourage exchanges rather than taking action. Employees cannot therefore expect these meetings to trigger actions systematically and reliably on the topics discussed. What we find really unfortunate, though, is that this kind of practice is not shared throughout the rest of the bank...